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Vaccination practices discussed

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Preparing calves to remain healthy throughout summer turnout and setting them up for success for the rest of their career, whether that be as a replacement female in a cow/calf operation or to enter the feedlot, heavily relies on pre-weaning vaccination practices. 

            Dr. Ben Abbey of Beaverhead Veterinary Clinic in Dillon, Mont. and Dr. Dan Goehl of Canton Veterinary Clinic in Canton, Mo. discuss the importance of an effective pre-weaning vaccination program to overall herd health as well as marketing practices for producers in the June 18 webinar presented by BEEF Magazine.   

Vaccination preparation

            Both veterinarians begin by stressing the importance of preparing calves to respond positively to any vaccinations they might receive. Nutrition and following vaccination guidelines are critical to the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

“Vaccination done poorly can actually be a detriment,” said Goehl. 

Nutrition is specifically important to the calf, especially when the ultimate goal is producing and selling pounds of beef. 

“Providing calves necessary requirements will ultimately affect the pocketbook more than the cow,” says Abbey. 

 He notes developing a healthy rumen is an important part of growing healthy calves that are able to gain weight and respond to vaccines. 

“Allow calves to have enough fiber to produce a good rumen,” Abbey says. “Rations that are heavy in creep feed start to burn the rumen, which impacts future performance of the calf.”  

“Nutrition is going to play a huge role in the health of that calf,” Goehl adds, referencing colostrum and immunity from the dam. “Manage colostrum and make sure the cow has the quality and quantity of colostrum her calf would need to get a good start.”

Following Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines and appropriately vaccinating to prevent respiratory diseases and produce a high-quality product for the end consumer is critical for producers, notes both Abbey and Goehl. Goehl adds that not handling vaccines properly and administering poorly is more detrimental than helpful. 

Abbey notes, “The quality of administration and vaccine handling will affect calves and vaccination quality over what product we use.” 

Vaccination types

            Modified live vaccines (MLV) offer the best protection for calves, notes Abbey. Goehl agrees, continuing that MLVs allow more flexibility and leeway in terms of vaccination preparation. 

            Goehl adds MLVs interfere less with immunity the calf receives from colostrum. 

            Intranasal vaccines also came up in conversation. Both veterinarians have seen success with intranasal vaccines, especially in combination with an injectable, but notes this does not protect from Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD). 

            “Intranasal vaccines have been a benefit to younger calves,” says Goehl.  

Pathogens of concern

Most preconditioning vaccinations focus on respiratory complex pathogens, says Abbey. “The Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) complex plagues the beef industry, “ he shares. 

            However, there are other concerns to be aware of, such as BVD and more recently, the bovine coronavirus. The virus, which is different than the novel coronavirus affecting humans currently, has an interesting evolution, according to Goehl. 

            Abbey notes he normally sees the bovine coronavirus in combination with other viruses such as Haemophilus somnus, which is typically a post-weaning disease.

“Viruses are evolving in bovine and making us utilize diagnostics better to come up with a better solution to the problem,” he says.  

            Disease exposure differs between management practices and herds. Vaccine protocols can be changed by veterinarians from diagnostics to better serve the needs of the herd.  

Individualized programs

            Pre-weaning vaccinations provide calves with a good foundation to continue through their job down the chain. Vaccinations are a part of the herd health program and beneficial to the cow/calf producer, but also benefit the next step. 

            While there are different certified vaccination programs providing a premium to the seller, it is important to work with a veterinarian to determine the best program for an operation.

“Vaccination programs can’t be standardized, they have to be individualized for individual herds,” says Goehl.

            Abbey recommends consulting a veterinarian early so diagnostics can be utilized to better fit the needs of each herd. He also notes using the vet as a herd health consultant, or a part of the herd health team, rather than just for emergency situations, helps to create a healthy herd with calves that perform well. 

            “Differing programs do not mean one is right and one is wrong,” Goehl says. “Vaccination programs should be tailored and individualized for each producer.”  


            Recommended vaccination programs vary from herd to herd by environment.

 Goehl adds recommendations are dictated by some variation in pathogens producers want to protect their herd against, but there is greater variation in timing, geographic region, individual herds, the management practices and different marketing programs. 

Abbey recommends decreasing stress levels leading up to and during vaccinating.

“Vaccinating, working and weaning is all stress on the calf,” he explains. “Stress increases cortisol, which is an immunosuppressant, and will decrease the vaccine response.” 

            Most of Abbey’s clients vaccinate with a five-way viral at least 14 to 30 days prior to weaning. Goehl recommends preconditioning with one to two rounds of vaccination prior to weaning. 

            In conclusion, both veterinarians urge cow/calf producers to participate in preconditioning programs to set calves up for future success.

            Averi Reynolds is the editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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